Photograph: Yang Xiaozhe
Crab gold noodles
With the insides of 12 crabs (six female, six male), salt and a sprinkling of gold flakes, Cejerdary’s Xie Huangjin – literally ‘Crab Gold’ – is the stuff of simple and straightforward extravagance. Expect a queue.
1266 Kaixuan Lu, near Anshun Lu. Hongqiao Lu. 360RMB.
Salt, coconut water and chicken – that's the hotpot base. After you’re done cooking with it, don’t ditch the pot like you would at any other hotpot place. 138RMB; 198RMB (whole chicken).
Photograph: Cat Nelson (stir-fried shrimp, ham and bamboo)
Stir-fried shrimp, ham and bamboo
Perhaps Ningbo’s best-kept secret, the fried bamboo slivers in this dish are basically crack, mixed up with cured ham, shrimp, gingko nuts and a shower of sugar. 78RMB.
Fish in the Josper oven
Velvety halibut gets a kick from a drizzle of spicy parsley and garlic oil and a smoky finish from a turn in the Josper oven. A whole fish, this dish is great for sharing. 198RMB.
Photograph: Cat Nelson (egg custard)
Is it wrong to call this the savoury and elevated adult version of a Snack Pack vanilla pudding? Presented dramatically in a spiny sea urchin shell, ultra creamy egg custard is studded with briny uni and tender strands of snow crab, accented lightly with a tart lime cream. 118RMB.
Roast fish head with scallion
Hidden under a mound of crisp, charred scallions and liberally doused in oil, the fish head at Jesse’s is a signature worth returning for – again and again. 228RMB (pre-order only).
Photograph: Yang Xiaozhe (jasmine tea-smoked pomfret)
Jasmine tea-smoked pomfret
You’d never think that fish could taste like candy, but you’d better believe it. Arriving in a smoke-filled belljar, small crispy fillets of pomfret perfumed with jasmine tea have an addictive sweet start and savoury finish that you’ll be popping like Skittles.
Nang chao rou
Wedges of flatbread are stir-fried with fatty chunks of mutton, onions, and a heavy coating of Xinjiang spice mix. 68RMB.
Photograph: Kenny Ong
Jiao ma ji
A mountain of tender chicken, tofu, wood ear mushrooms and green onion sits in a thick pool of chicken stock mixed with numbing pepper oil. If you’re a numbing pepper addict, this dish is going to be the one that does you in. 69RMB.
Wood plank salmon fillet
Taking campfire food to a whole new level, an orange-pink slab of salmon is slow-smoked over a fire pit. The result is a piece of fish that’s all sorts of succulent, smoky and just all kinds of swoonworthy. 398RMB (quarter); 788RMB (half); 1,388RMB (full).
Photograph: Yang Xiaozhe (whole baked turbot)
Whole baked turbot
‘Whole turbot filled with brown butter sauce’ sounds so innocent, but it’s a devil of a dish. Liberally doused in a lemony browned butter sauce, this flaky fish will linger in your mind for days. 238RMB.
Crispy mandarin fish
A dish also known as 'squirrel fish' – allegedly for its 'squirrel'-like appearance – the white fish is deboned and cut in a crosshatch pattern before being battered and deep-fried (which is when it gets that bushy 'tail' look). It's then liberally covered in an auspicious-red sticky sweet and sour sauce. 328RMB.
Photograph: Cat Nelson (black truffle pizza)
Black truffle pizza
There's a reason this is Mercato's moat popular dish. A three-cheese mix (mozzarella, fontina and Parmesan) is sprinkled on top a layer of Italian truffle paste before an egg is cracked into the centre. After it's pulled out of the oven, the whole thing is showered in shavings of fresh black truffle, producing a fragrance so redolent that should be bottled and sold as Mercato's signature scent. 218RMB.
Braised and fried chicken
The double technique approach (braised then fried) in this Shandong speciality means the chicken avoids the dreaded white meat dryness – super succulent with supremely crispy skin. Pulled apart by hand and topped with shredded carrot, spring onion, chilli and coriander. 40RMB.
Photograph: Yang Xiaozhe (‘Mapo’ spicy tofu with pig brain)
‘Mapo’ spicy tofu with pig brain
Silky tofu arrives coated in a vibrant red sauce studded with mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns and pig brain. 53RMB.
Pie Society’s steak and ale pie takes tender pieces of steak, carrot and mushroom, braises it all in a hearty beef stock with Guinness and then wraps it all in a hot and flakey pie crust. 55RMB.
Photograph: Cat Nelson (typhoon shelter-style corn)
Typhoon shelter-style corn
A riff on a Hong Kong icon (typhoon shelter crab), this lucky dip of a dish hides chunks of fried corn beneath a thick blanket of crisp garlic crumbs with scallion, black beans, chillies and coriander. 88RMB.
For Peking duck to rival the capital, Xindalu has got your number. Cooked in the upscale restaurant's wood-fired oven, the duck is crispy and juicy in all the right places. 238RMB (half).
Photograph: courtesy Gemma
This brilliantly simple pizza takes one of Gemma's signature Neapolitan-style bases (characterised by their cloud-like crust), covers it in a blanket of crème fraîche, and tops it off with delicate slices of prosciutto, lashings of herb mascarpone and homemade basil pesto. 120RMB.
We’re positive you’ll never have pasta with butter and cheese this good anywhere else. Ribbons of handmade tagliolini come slicked in butter and parmesan cheese with redolent shavings of the truffle of the season, be it black or white. 398RMB.
Photograph: Amy Snelling (bone marrow, orecchiette)
Bone marrow, orecchiette
Chewy, ear-shaped orecchiette are coated in a rich, long-simmered ragù sauce and served with fabulously unctuous roasted bone marrow. 168RMB.
There’s no denying there are a lot of great hongshao rou in this city, but Ren He Guan’s rendition nails it on all levels. Sticky and sweet, it’s served in a single melt-in-your-mouth chunk with two quarters of a hard-boiled soy egg for 19RMB. Just the perfect amount for this ultra-rich, fatty classic. 18RMB.